Mariah Blake

Mariah Blake

Senior Reporter

Mariah Blake is a senior reporter at Mother Jones. She has also written for The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The New Republic, the Washington Monthly, and the Columbia Journalism Review, among other publications. Email her at mblake [at] motherjones [dot] com or follow her on Twitter.

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WATCH: George Zimmerman's Girlfriend Reveals Disturbing New Details in Police Video

| Fri Jan. 3, 2014 10:27 AM EST

Last November, after a heated domestic dispute and a frantic call to 911, George Zimmerman's girlfriend told police that he had threatened her with a shotgun. The allegations were eerily similar to those lodged by Zimmerman's ex-wife following his acquittal on charges of murdering unarmed teen Trayvon Martin, and they seemed to signal a pattern of uncontrolled violence.

Zimmerman's girlfriend, 27-year-old Samantha Scheibe, later recanted the accusations, saying in a sworn statement that she was "intimidated" during police questioning and believed investigators had "misinterpreted" her words. But a recently released video of Scheibe's police interview casts doubt on her disavowal. It also adds credibility and violent new detail to Scheibe's original account.

The officer who questioned Scheibe, Stephen LaGuardia of the Seminole County Sheriff's office, did not come across as intimidating. And Scheibe's description of events was detailed and vivid—not the kind of thing most people concoct on the fly. Having broken off the relationship, Scheibe said she told Zimmerman to leave her house. He began packing his belongings, including his AR-15 assault rifle. As he removed the clip and shoved it in his rifle bag, a bullet fell on the floor. Zimmerman then grabbed and cocked his shotgun, apparently so that there was a shell in the chamber, and stuffed it in the rifle bag, too.

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Miami and Los Angeles Sue Banking Giants Over the Sub-Prime Mortgage Debacle

| Mon Dec. 23, 2013 10:03 AM EST

Some of the cities hardest hit by the sub-prime mortgage crisis are fighting back with lawsuits against the banks whose predatory lending fueled the collapse of the housing market. Most recently, the city of Miami filed three separate suits against Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup, claiming their lending practices violated the federal Fair Housing Act and cost the city millions in tax revenue.

The cases, all of which were filed in the Southern District of Florida, focus on the banks' treatment of minority borrowers. According to the city, minority residents were routinely charged higher interest rates and fees than white loan applicants, regardless of their credit history. They were also stuck with other onerous terms—such as prepayment penalties, adjustable interest rates, and balloon payments—that increased their odds of falling into foreclosure.

It's no secret that some big banks discriminated against minority borrowers during the housing bubble. Racial bias ran so deep inside Wells Fargo's mortgage division that employees regularly referred to subprime mortgages as “ghetto loans" and African American borrowers as “mud people," according to testimony from former bank officials. In 2011, Bank of America paid $355 million to settle a Justice Department lawsuit, charging that its Countrywide Financial unit steered hundreds of thousands of minority borrowers into predatory mortgages.

Lawyers for the city of Miami, which is roughly 60 percent Latino and 20 percent African American, argue that these discriminatory practices are one key reason that the fallout from the sub-prime lending frenzy hit the city so hard. "The State of Florida in general, and the City of Miami in particular have been devastated by the foreclosure crisis," reads the city's complaint. "As of October 2013, the State of Florida has the country’s highest foreclosure rate, and Miami has the highest foreclosure rate among the 20 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country." The city is seeking compensation for the drop in real estate tax revenue due to foreclosures, which have further depressed property values, and for the cost of providing municipal services to abandoned homes.

In a written statement to the Miami Herald, Wells Fargo called the discrimination claims “unfounded allegations that don’t reflect our corporate values,” while Citigroup insisted that it “considers each applicant by the same objective criteria.” Bank of America also defended its lending practices as fair and said it had "responded urgently" to assist customers during the financial crisis.

Miami isn't the first city to take on the banking giants. Earlier this month, Los Angeles—which claims to have lost more than $78 billion in home value due to foreclosures—sued Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo on the same grounds. Richmond, California, a working-class Bay Area suburb, plans to rescue borrowers whose mortgages are underwater by seizing their properties using eminent domain. Homeowners will remain in their homes and be given new loans for amounts that reflect current values. And the city will have a fighting chance of shoring up its dwindling tax revenue. It's a good deal for everyone—except the bankers behind the housing implosion.

Does the New Defense Spending Bill Protect Anti-Gay Bullying?

| Fri Dec. 13, 2013 10:05 AM EST

A provision buried in the Pentagon spending bill soon to be adopted by Congress could open the door to anti-gay bullying, hate speech, and aggressive proselytizing inside the US military.

Earlier this week, the Senate and House Armed Services committees reached an agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act, allotting $625 billion in military spending for fiscal year 2014. And on Thursday, the House passed it by a 350-69 margin. While the measure enjoys broad congressional support, gay-rights advocates are concerned about the revamped "conscience clause," a variation of which appeared in the version of the bill that the House passed in June. Below is the text:

Except in cases of military necessity, the Armed Forces shall accommodate the beliefs, actions, and speech of a service member and chaplain reflecting the service member's or chaplain's conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, and in so far as practicable, would prohibit use of such beliefs, actions, or speech as the basis for any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training or assignment.

Critics argued that extending the protections to "actions, or speech" would allow service members to lash out at those whose faith, sexual preference, or lifestyle they opposed on religious ground, and to aggressively proselytize. (Some military institutions, particularly the Air Force Academy, have come under fire for allegedly forcing evangelical Christianity on recruits.) They also maintained that the provision would bar commanders from stepping in to prevent discrimination. In June, the White House issued a statement opposing the amendment on these grounds:

By limiting the discretion of commanders to address potentially problematic speech and actions within their units, this provision would have a significant adverse effect on good order, discipline, morale, and mission accomplishment... If the bill is presented to the President for approval in its current form, the President’s senior advisers would recommend that the President veto the bill.

The version of the defense authorization bill that the House and Senate agreed on this week has a somewhat milder conscience clause:

Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a service member and chaplain reflecting the service member's or chaplain's conscience, moral principles or religious beliefs, and in so far as practicable, would prohibit use of such expressions of belief as the basis for any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training or assignment.

While the new language gives commanders more latitude, it still limits their ability to intervene. And the provision still protects "expressions of belief," which naturally includes action and speech--meaning it could still be a license to discriminate.

What Kind of Crazy Anti-Environment Bills Is ALEC Pushing Now?

| Fri Dec. 6, 2013 11:06 AM EST

The American Legislative Exchange Council may be hemorrhaging members and grappling with a funding crisis, but that hasn't hampered its ambitions. In 2013, the conservative outfit, which specializes in generating state-level legislation, launched a multi-front jihad on green energy, with more than 77 ALEC-backed energy bills cropping up in state legislature. Among the most prominent were measures to repeal renewable energy standards and block meaningful disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. Most of these bills failed. But as state lawmakers and corporate representatives gather in Washington this week for the group's three-day policy summit, ALEC is pushing ahead with a new package of energy and environmental bills that will benefit Big Energy and polluters.

On Wednesday, The Guardian reported some details of ALEC's anti-green-energy offensive and its new policy roadmap, which began taking shape at an August gathering of the group's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force in Chicago. The newspaper focused largely on ALEC's efforts to undermine net-metering policies, which allow private citizens to sell excess power from rooftop solar panels to utilities. ("As it stands now, those direct generation customers are essentially freeriders on the system," John Eick, an ALEC legislative analyst, told the Guardian.) But the group's energy task force—which includes as members fossil fuel interests, such as Koch Industries and Exxon Mobil—will also be peddling other pro-corporate state initiatives, some with far-reaching implications. Below is a roundup:

Fri Apr. 25, 2014 12:42 PM EDT